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My Night in Temple With Michael Jackson

A Strange Meeting With the King of Pop, the Kosher Sex Rabbi, and Uri Geller


Michael Jackson at the 2006 World Music Awards.

Michael Jackson at the 2006 World Music Awards.

Photo © Dave Hogan/Getty Images

In two decades covering weird news, few evenings were more bizarre than the night I sat in temple with the one and only Michael Jackson.

It was 1999, and I was working as a producer for ABC News.com, when Melissa Rubenstein, a publicist who owed me a favor, called in this tip.

"Don't make me sorry I told you," she said, warning that I could observe the king of pop as he attended the Carlebach Shul on Manhattan's Upper West Side for his first experience in a Jewish house of worship.

"Just observe," she said. "If you do anything else, if you disrupt the service, you'll pay."

I had just a few minutes to get there. This was to be an unannounced event. I called my girlfriend, broke our date, and dashed up Broadway.

And there he was -- in a black fedora, dark sunglasses, a red silk shirt and iridescent tie -- praying among 150 of New York's most religious Jews.

The unnatural red glow of Jackson's lips made my pulse race. It was just like MTV, only he was standing amid a sea of bearded men in traditional garb, praying in Hebrew. Strangely, Jackson was the only African-American, and still the whitest man in temple.

As the rabbis chanted, the King of Pop mouthed amen at all the right moments, almost tearfully. Walt Disney would have been proud. The most plastic man alive looked so lifelike. I gazed up, searching for answers, and elbowed closer, hoping for an autograph.

Was it really so strange? Jackson was a man who lived a fad a minute. One minute he was sleeping in an oxygen tent, the next he was buying the Elephant Man's bones, and taking plastic surgery to places no one wanted to see.

Jacko's Kosher Sex Rabbi

Jackson's host was Shmuley Boteach, better known as "The Kosher Sex Rabbi," a man who believed every question you ever had about making love to your spouse could be answered in the Bible.

Kosher Sex, he kept reminding everyone, was extremely frisky.

"Rabbis long ago made the female orgasm an obligation incumbent on every Jewish husband," the media-friendly rabbi reminded me.

Are sex toys OK? Can you call a vibrator kosher? What about masturbation? Yes, said Boteach, as long as it increased intimacy between a husband and wife.

"I don't recommend oral sex if that is all you and your spouse do," he told me. "God wants us to have children. But he also wants us to have fun."

Of course, you and your spouse can't have Kosher Sex every day.

Boteach said the key to Kosher sex was not to have sex two weeks every month, and that time must include the woman's menstrual cycle. By abstaining, the libido rebuilds.

"I know that is easier said than done," he said. "But this gives love that forbidden quality that keeps it sexy. When that waiting period ends, you explode with joy."

Heal the Childen or Feel the Children?

Boteach's "Kosher Sex" book -- a mixture of Talmudic teachings peppered with quotes from Mae West, Oscar Wild, Woody Allen and Zsa Zsa Gabor -- became an instant bestseller, but it got him in enough hot soup with some members of the Orthodox Jewish community for a lifetime of matzo ball soup.

Despite the controversy, Boteach was comfortable with his perception as a caffeine-driven ham who runs from one interview to the next.

"Do I love spreading the word of God and the Talmud? Absolutely," he once told me. "Do I like seeing myself on TV? That's nice, too."

Bringing Jackson to Temple only served to make Boteach more controversial -- and Boteach loved it.

Boteach would go on to head Jackson's "Heal the Children" charity, even though many though of him as more of a child feeler than a child healer.

As we sat in temple, and we watched Michael stare at the Hebrew in a Jewish prayer book, Boteach whispered to me.

"Michael has a sincere curiosity in Judaism," said Boteach, who came he tutored Jackson and had affixed a mezuzah to one of his homes.

"He'll listened to me for hours and it's not that I'm such a fantastic teacher," Boteach said. "It's that Jackson is so interested in learning."

The Telekinetic Al Fayed Connection

The sex therapist rabbi sat between Michael and me. On the other side, sat the man who introduced the pop star to Boteach - the internationally renowned spoon-bending psychic Uri Geller.

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